Ethiopia drought serious, urgent help needed-UN

Ethiopia drought serious, urgent help needed-UN

Alert News 06 Dec 2002 17:08


ADDIS ABABA, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Ethiopia's drought may worsen and match the 1984 crisis in which up to one million died unless help arrives urgently, but the country is not yet suffering a famine, a U.N. agency said on Friday.

"Unless urgent interventions are taken, the drought situation in Ethiopia has the potential to develop equal to the 1984/85 crisis," U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) executive director Carol Bellamy told a news conference.

Bellamy, who toured the drought-hit Afar region northeast of Addis Ababa on Thursday, called on the Ethiopian government to take the lead in saving its own people by cutting red tape and providing emergency food.

"It (the drought) is quite serious. Clearly what I saw in Afar region indicated that the people of the region, who are mostly pastoralists, were definitely affected.

"It's too early to describe the situation as famine," she said, but added: "I saw a significant presence of dead animals in Afar and that their irrigation canals were not only dry but dust-dry."

The government needed to dig more wells, diversify crops and establish a health system, she said.

For its part, the Ethiopian government has complained that the international community is not providing it with enough emergency food.

Aid groups say up to 14 million people could face serious food shortages in Ethiopia following the failure of rains this year. Neighbouring Eritrea has appealed for help for the 1.4 million of its 3.3 million people it says face starvation.

Bellamy said she regretted that global responses to such extreme situations tended to come only when people started dying.

"When people start dying, it means that you have a critical crisis situation level which should have been prevented. I hope the donor community this time will respond without delay to avert the crisis from taking place," she said.

She downplayed suggestions that AIDS had significantly worsened the food shortages but said the pandemic certainly had the potential to harm Ethiopian farming. Ethiopia's 1998-2000 border war with Eritrea had also aggravated matters.

Alert News is provided by Reuters